Survival in Auschwitz

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An Explanation for the Holocaust
Everyone who has taken a history course that goes through the 20th century knows about the atrocities performed in Nazi Germany; 11 million people exterminated and countless others put into concentration camps with unimaginable conditions. But most people do not try to explain how the German soldiers could do these things to other human beings. Primo Levi in his book Survival in Auschwitz attempts to answer this question. He begins by explaining the physical and psychological transformation of the prisoners and how that enabled the Germans to see the prisoners as inhuman and therefore oppress-able. Levi believes that the Germans treated the Jewish prisoners horrendously because of the prisoner’s inhuman appearances and the German’s beliefs of racial superiority. The immediate effects of the concentration camps on the inmates were both physical and psychological. As soon as they got to the camps, the Jewish prisoners were immediately stripped of their clothes, hair, and name. The only thing Levi had left was a tattooed number on his arm, “already my own body was no longer mine” (Levi 37). Levi describes this transformation as a loss of identity and the becoming of a phantom, “There is no where to look in a mirror, but our appearance stands in front of us, reflected in a hundred livid faces, in a hundred miserable and sordid puppets” (Levi 26). They were forced into submission by beatings and the ever-present threat of death. The knowledge of imminent death was especially detrimental to the psyche of the inmates, “you are not home, this is not a sanatorium, the only exit is by way of the Chimney” (Levi 29). Although they were beaten and altered physically, Levi believes the most damage happened psychologically. The whole law of the camp was based on keeping the prisoners oppressed and without rights, “This fills me with anger, although I already know that it is in the normal order of things that the privileged oppress...
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